The Making of a CD Timeline
**Additions bringing timeline up to date in red**
The time any artistic project takes fluctuates wildly. In my case, random factors that change
daily include touring, recording on my own and other peoples' projects, writing songs and
stories, articles and the like. Sometimes a deadline looms that gets shoved aside because
something more important has come along. Sometimes a "drop-dead deadline" can't be moved
under any circumstance, and we put our shoulders to the wheel and push as hard as we can
to make it happen.
This album was unusual in that I had time; normally, we tour for 9 months, then make
an album for 2-3 months, then go right back on tour. For the first time since
Between the Lines, there was time. Time to study the worktapes. Time to get
comfortable with the tracks before the vocals. Time to digest everything before
As you'll see from the timeline below, Billie's Bones really began in 1994, when I
started two of the songs that wound up on the album. When I was a young songwriter (age
twelve), the amount of songs I finished each year seemed very important. I often finished
songs that should have waited, to their detriment. Now, I know instinctively when I'm on
the right track - and when there's nothing there yet. A song like "Matthew" may sit in my
notebooks for almost a decade, with me delving into it once or twice a year to see if
anything new strikes me.
I keep "song notebooks", large spiral custom-made books with lines on the right hand page (for
lyrics), and staff lines on the left (for music). They're labeled by number and start/end
date. In those notebooks are every shred of any idea I decide might be worthwhile - scraps
of songs, a line, a thought, an image. They're invaluable, because when I'm stuck, I often
find myself going back to the very first draft of the song, to see if there's a snippet I
The completion of a song like "My Tennessee Hills" always astounds me. When you've lived with
a chorus for years, getting nowhere, and the entire song then finishes itself in a few hours,
you learn to trust the subconscious talent that lurks somewhere within. For all those years,
some tiny part of my brain was working on the song, absorbing influences, trying on different
things, until I was finally ready to make use of it all.
I think that for any recording artist with sense, an album begins with the songs. If the songs1994
aren't there, the best-recorded album in the world won't work. That's why this timeline
begins with April, 1994, when I started the first song.
April Started "Mockingbird" with the entire first verse, but no ideas past that.
August Started a song with the working title "What Makes A Man A Man", which became the
chorus to "Matthew".
December Wrote "Forever Young" while Pat was in law school in Knoxville, and I was
spending my days listening to the Jonesborough radio station - nothing but old country.
Wound up writing some songs I think of as descendants of the old English ballad.
November 20 Started "Mary's Eyes" on a day off in Dublin.
January 16 Start fiddling with what became "Marching on Glasgow" at sound check in
Glasgow, intrigued by the tuning and partial capo.
December Start "Who Will Die by Fire", which became "Dead Men Walking".
January Start "Scarecrow", which became part of "Matthew". Also begin "Georgia Paints",
a/k/a "Standing On the Bones", which becomes "Billie's Bones".
February Write most of the chorus to "My Tennessee Hills", originally titled
"(I'll Go Home To) My Tennessee Heart".
February 13 Skip Ewing and I try writing together for the first time, and begin
"When I Lay Down"; write most of the first verse and chorus.
March 8 First writing appointment with Jimmy Collins; start "Save Somebody" and book
another session to finish it up.
March 20 Finish "Save Somebody", and agree Jimmy will go home to do the demo, then I'll
sing over the track. Tour for the rest of the year; not much time for writing!
February Finish "Mockingbird" in one sitting, begin a bunch of others.
November 15 Philip and I began discussing the next album during a day off in Maine - what
kind of production team do I need? Where do I want to record? What will the feel be? Will we
try to amplify what we'd done with God & the FBI, or go in an entirely new direction?
Most important, what are the songs? About the only things I know for sure are that I want it
to be simple, I want upright bass, and I want to cut at home in Nashville. I also know I'm not
going to have a hit record, and for the first time I'm funding, and owning, the project forever -
but do I want that to affect it creatively?
December Start making notes about what I want for this record. I know from the things that
have irritated me on other peoples' albums these past few years that I want short intros; none of
that extended 60's stuff. As few fades as possible; I'd like the tracks to end the way the songs
end, where it makes sense. A band that combines all my backgrounds - pop, jazz, and folk, with
some classical thrown in. To be able to take my time, for once, to have time to listen and
re-listen and make changes and add and subtract. I do not want any drama, big arguments,
stupid egos. Since I don't even have a record company right now, I realize I can do exactly as I
want, and I resolve to succeed - or fail - on my own instincts. Most of all, I know the whole
album needs to be song centered, more than any other record I've done. The songs need to be
wonderful, and simple. For some reason, simplicity keeps coming back to me.
January I enter 2003 thinking I need to get some songs finished for the next album, and
I have very limited time. The 2003 projects schedule includes 5 weeks of touring, editing a very
large science fiction anthology, writing three stories of my own on deadline, creating the live
double CD set from over 300 possible track choices, and somehow writing and recording my next
studio album. I've rarely been comfortable trying to write an album's worth of material to
deadline, but to my great surprise it works. I write furiously January-February, take a break
for touring, then write from mid-April until June, when we begin recording. In the "totally
unplanned for but worth changing a deadline" category, Nora Guthrie asks me to choose a Woody
Guthrie lyric and re-write it, then set it to a melody. She sends 13 lyrics to choose from, and
I write "I Hear You Sing Again" in two days. That song and "Billie's Bones" become the
cornerstones of the album, dictating the entire project's direction. I also resume work on
"Matthew"; the only part that survives this draft period is the beginning of the last verses.
Finish "My Tennessee Hills" in one sitting. Write "Billie's Bones" drafts one, two, and three.
While on the road with a few days off, I have a revelation about how to use the chorus "What
Makes A Man A Man", and sketch out most of "Matthew".
January 2 Transfer any new songs available into my iMac and begin listening "from the
outside", trying to forget that I wrote them. The Mac becomes my best friend during this project,
with iTunes allowing me to easily make copies, check sequencing, and listen to all the different
January 18 My business manager goes to MIDEM (a big industry gathering in Europe) to make
licensing deals for the two new album projects. Meanwhile, I meet with Oh Boy Records to see if
they're interested in US and Australian licensing. Over the next six months, my lawyer, business
manager and I wade through negotiations with JVC Victor Japan, Oh Boy, Cooking Vinyl, and
Beaver Music Hong Kong, most of which aren't concluded until after the companies had released
the live CD! Pick my production team, call Marc Moreau and Jeff Balding to see if they'd be
interested in doing another project. Both say they don't have time to do the entire project, which
is fine because I want one person to edit and mix, and another to do the actual recording.
January 31 Put together a rough schedule with Jeff and Marc, figure out the start date, discuss
musician choices, band size, studios, equipment.
February Write out final versions of "Save Somebody", "I Hear You Sing Again", "My
Tennessee Hills", as well as the "Billie's Bones" next to final draft.
February 26 Leave on tour for a month
Late March Work on "When I Lay Down" alone and create its second incarnation. Begin
working on budgets, meeting with business managers and co-producers, figuring out how much I
need to make the album. What the musicians, studio, rentals, cartage, hotels, airfares etc will
cost. If we spend only three days recording tracks in a studio, and three doing vocals, then
do all the editing and overdubs in our home studio, we can squeak through. I also try to
figure out where the money for the artwork will come from, and realize we're going to have to
be ridiculously efficient to make all of this work. The charts have to be well-written, the intros
and outros already configured, the band willing to put in twelve hour days. I can't afford to
pay the musicians what they're worth for this amount of hours; nor can I afford what the
American Federation of Musicians demands. Speak with Cathy Fink and a few others, find out the
AF of M has begun creating dispensations for situations like this.
March 22 Turn the album budget, now neatly on a spreadsheet, over to Tina with instructions
to contact the AF of M and figure out how we can make this work. For the next eight months,
I update the budget sheets daily, sending them to co-producers and business managers, making
sure my three simultaneous projects - live CD, studio CD, and the re-mastering and new artwork
for my entire back catalogue - are all within budget.
March 26 Put songs together for first worktape (typed out, checked chords, worked on guitar
parts). Speak with Richard Davis and Harry Stinson; book both for June 9-11. Discuss travel
arrangements with Richard and ask Philip to coordinate. Start assigning areas; Jeff will be in
charge of tracking, Marc will do vocals and editing, Jeff will mix. Tina will deal with the budget
while we're actually recording, run Richard to and from their hotel, liaison with caterer, cartage
people, and all the ancillary folk that go into a project; file the AF of M forms and pay the
musicians, make sure the charts are handed out and collected. Philip is in charge of my
instruments and equipment, making sure strings are changed, pedals and pickups work; he'll also
be second engineer while we're editing and over-dubbing.
March 30 Record worktapes #1 at Jeff's home studio; discuss final band choices, scheduling,
studios and budget. I'm adamant that the studio be styled in such a way that I can simultaneously
see the engineer and all the musicians, and they can all see me. We both like Sound Emporium,
a ten minute drive from my home.
April 1 Call Scott at Sound Emporium, tell him I have no money, ask if I can get their best
room for a dollar a day. Much laughter. Work out a fair deal on my promise that I'll pay them at
the end of each day, instead of making them wait 30-45 days. Book Jim Brock and Dan Dugmore,
confirm dates with everyone. Tell the band I could only afford to pay them X dollars as a day
rate, but would pay in full at the end of the 3rd day. Order chart paper, music writing tools
for myself; Philip begins figuring out what strings and other tools we'll need and contacts our
April 8 Marc arrives for a week of pre-production: going through songs, keys, technical
decisions etc with Janis, Jeff, Philip. To my relief, he thinks the album songs are already hanging
together well. Tina checks on everyone's food requirements, and I finally find a caterer who'll
give us hot lunch each day for a reasonable price. We discussed not having one, but Jeff pointed
out that letting everyone leave for lunch each day would disrupt the sessions enormously.
April 17 Send the first rough worktapes to the musicians, at their request.
May 1 Finish last touches on "Mockingbird"; write "Dead Men Walking" over the next
May 6 Skip Ewing writing session to complete "When I Lay Down"
May 8 More worktapes to get the newest songs down; drop all six guitars off with Joe
Glaser for fine tuning. Book a piano tuner for the 3rd day of recording. Ask Al Bunetta to get a
CD of "My Tennessee Hills" to Dolly Parton. Call musicians, studio, engineers and re-confirm
dates, downbeat 10 am each day.
May 15 Master Working Without a Net, which I'd been editing and working on since
May 18 Start writing scratch charts (literally, a chart of the song for the players, with
chords, timing, some notes on licks I want played, where it should get loud etc. The scratch
charts are the very first, sloppy version.)
May 22 Write better charts en route to and from Texas, checking my own
chord changes against the worktapes.
May 29 Do one more set of worktapes with the final 16 song choices and send it to
the band and crew.
May 29-June 6 Write the final charts and arrangements for all 16 songs, a separate chart for
each player, myself, the engineer, and a spare. "Glasgow" is the toughest; I know if we're going
to get 4-5 songs done each day, I have to write out a full arrangement on this one, down to the
June 3 Final pre-production meeting with Jeff; discuss renting a new Neumann microphone
he thinks will be great, how to cut costs, best way to set up the studio. No word from Dolly.
June 7 Tina and Marc arrive; production crew meets at studio to discuss setup. Dinner
with crew, Karen McWhorter of Oh Boy, to finalize the song list, possible cutting orders.
June 8 Richard Davis arrives, is met and escorted to hotel by Tina (who has the only
vehicle his bass will fit in). Go over final song list with Jeff & Marc; Tina spends the entire
day Xeroxing spare lead sheets; Pat's birthday. Work on cutting order.
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